By developing local produce, stores not only provide vital support to farmers and producers, they can build loyalty and raise sales, too

Tomorrow marks the start of the sixth British Food Fortnight and my Budgens store in Newent, Gloucester, will be running promotions on local food and tastings as will all other Budgens stores nationwide.

It's nearly two years since I took the leap into independent retailing and purchased my first Budgens store, in Newent, and I have just completed on my second one in Hampshire.

When I took over the Newent store I noticed a huge opportunity to source locally produced foods and seized on it. I wanted to make a real statement to the community that we would, wherever possible, support local producers and farmers in providing them with a route to market, which fits with the Musgrave vision of supporting British food and the community.

I set myself a target to source quality food through local producers and have managed to create partnerships with 24 high-quality producers and farmers. For instance, we sell local apple juice - sourced within a 1.5-mile radius - that has been pressed, bottled and delivered within three hours.

Other initiatives, which have proved successful, include weekly sampling with local producers to raise customer awareness; team training with local producers so that staff have a better knowledge of how food is produced; and supporting suppliers with marketing of their packaging.

Throughout British Food Fortnight, we will be using additional sampling and building product awareness by giving customers the chance to meet local farmers so they get an idea of the food miles each product accumulates. We also spend time with the local schools to encourage kids to learn more about the provenance of the food they eat and invite them into the store.

We have a responsibility to the schoolchildren in our areas to educate them in the importance of eating healthy food. After all, they are our customers of the future. One of my plans for British Food Fortnight this year includes the Chef's Apron Competition. With the support of MBL, 60 Budgens stores are supplying their local schools with 100 aprons and free locally sourced ingredients to encourage schools to teach their pupils about British food and how to cook.

Past initiatives have included our Breads of the World day, where we visited local schools and presented types of bread and their uses. We also invited more than 40 11 to 12-year-old children for a tour of the store, giving them insights into areas such as produce and meat.

I am extremely passionate about backing British food. As independent retailers we should all support local food and our communities by tapping into what is a massively under- developed area of our businesses. By doing this we are not only enhancing customer loyalty, but also giving much-needed support to local producers.

I am sure this has played a major part in the store's success - we have achieved 25% sales growth in less than two years, with no refit works. We were also crowned Community Retailer of the Year in our first year of trading - a scheme run by the District Council - and have also won the Local Food Hero award.

I urge retailers look out for more locally produced ranges and to support British producers. Aside from any financial success, it will give you a good standing and enable you to fully integrate into the community.n

Mark Richardson is the store manager of Budgens' Newent store, Gloucester